The President’s City Banquet

President Park with the Lord Mayor
President Park with the Lord Mayor (Photo: Blue House, via Korea.net)

For the last night of her State Visit to the United Kingdom, President Park attended a banquet at the Guildhall in the City of London as a guest of the Lord Mayor – in one of his last official duties before passing on his responsibilities to the new Lord Mayor two days later.

Over seven hundred guests filled the hall. There were representatives of the ancient City Livery Companies such as the Goldsmiths and the Mercers. Aldermen and Common Councillors were present, the people who have inherited the governance of the Corporation of London from their forbears. Korean businessman, and British businessmen with connections to Korea, swelled the ranks, together with representatives of the diplomatic community. As dean of the diplomatic corps, the Kuwaiti ambassador was on High Table next to the Duchess of Gloucester.

The City can almost rival Buckingham Palace for pageantry and the titles of the various officials necessary to keep the show on the road: among the attendees were The Lord Mayor’s Swordbearer who kept a watchful eye on the Royal Silver Stick in Waiting and vice versa. Also present were the City Remembrancer and his assistant, and two Chaplains to the Lord Mayor.

Welcome Speech
The address of welcome given to the President, with (inset) the silver casket which contained it

The Remembrancer’s task was to deliver the welcome address to the President, an address hand-written onto a parchment scroll which was then presented to the President in a tubular silver casket as a memento of her visit. And the role of the ceremonial trumpeters from the Life Guards was also clear – four at each end of the hall, they echoed each other’s fanfares before and after each speech. There was also a string orchestra up in the gallery, but although according to the official programme they were to play a dozen pieces of music, they were inaudible other than when they played some Handel at the entrance of High Table, and when they played the Korean National Anthem.

The menu was designed to show off the best of British produce – there was no attempt to introduce Korean flavours. A honey-marinaded breast of quail with beetroot risotto was followed by salmon ravioli; both were served with a white wine from Sussex. Gressingham duck was partnered with claret, a British red not being found that was robust enough. Berries and sorbets in a brandy snap basket, with a Loire sweet white wine, finished the meal before port, brandy and Macallan whisky were offered around to accompany the coffee and speeches by the Lord Mayor and the President.

The President was seated to the Lord Mayor’s right, and on her other side was the Duke of Gloucester who earlier this year represented the Queen in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Seoul. That was the occasion on which the Duke had delivered the Queen’s formal invitation to the President to come to the UK on a State Visit.

President Park at the Guildhall banquet
President Park at the Guildhall banquet (Photo: Blue House via Korea.net)

Crouching behind the President throughout the dinner was a hard-working interpreter dressed in white tie and tails – as of course were the rest of the guests who did not have a more formal uniform to wear. The President herself was wearing a dark blue hanbok, and in fact the majority of Korean women present also took the opportunity to wear their own finest hanbok.

The Lord Mayor’s speech (available on the City of London website [pdf download]), praised the Republic’s achievements over the past two generations and laid out the extent of existing historical commercial ties between the two countries. As one might expect, it also included a sales pitch: for London’s Tech City, for London’s expertise in the financial and legal sectors, and, with an eye on the 2014 Asian Games, 2015 World Student Games, and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, London’s expertise in delivering the 2012 Games.

The President highlighted the 130-year-long friendship between our countries, which came into being 11 years before Tower Bridge was completed. She highlighted her admiration for the UK’s creative industries, and noted the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the cultural and creative industries that had been signed by the UK and ROK Culture Ministers a couple of hours previously at the opening ceremony of the London Korean Film Festival.

The President and Lord Mayor
The President and Lord Mayor applaud each other’s speeches (Photo: Blue House)

To serve dinner for over 700 guests in the space of 3 hours, including canapés and generous amounts of champagne beforehand, plus fanfares, processions and speeches, is a tribute to the long traditions of hospitality in the Guildhall. The guests were invited for more port and whisky – 이차 – in another reception room at around 10:15pm, allowing the President to head back to the Palace so that her hosts didn’t have to wait up too late for her. And the staff started the huge task of clearing the tables and securing all the golden tableware.

It was a memorable occasion, made special by the splendour of the surroundings and all the pomp and ceremony. The Corporation of London have made a video of the occasion:

The official banquet at the Guildhall was on 6 November 2013.

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